Dodgers pitching stymies D-backs

Dodgers pitching stymies D-backs

PHOENIX -- Back in the day -- the year was 2009 -- the Dodgers played for a six-inning lead they could turn over to the best bullpen in the league to protect, and it usually did.

The bullpen short-circuited and went haywire in April, but Monday night it was 2009 all over again as Chad Billingsley and three relievers combined on a four-hitter in a 7-3 Dodgers win over the D-backs.

Former Sun Devil Andre Ethier returned to his hometown with three hits and two RBIs, James Loney homered and drove in a pair and makeshift leadoff hitter Russell Martin started two rallies with walks.

But as manager Joe Torre keeps saying, it's all about the pitching, and the Dodgers outpitched the only team below them in the standings.

Billingsley pitched well but not long, given a quick hook by Torre at the 90-pitch mark after 5 1/3 innings, charged with two runs on three hits. Billingsley marched off the mound looking very unhappy with the short leash, but afterward blamed himself and not the manager.

"I was really mad at myself for walking [Adam] LaRoche and leaving the breaking ball up for [Stephen] Drew [who doubled LaRoche to third]," said Billingsley, who hadn't allowed a hit since Chris Young's home run leading off the second inning.

Although the D-backs were unable to conquer Billingsley, Torre seemed concerned enough with his four walks that he yanked the right-hander while he still led.

"I thought he was fine," said Torre. "He was in and out of his delivery, got a little wild, overall threw a good curveball. When we got in the sixth with second and third, I just wanted to do something different."

Torre didn't dispute the notion that Billingsley didn't want to leave the game.

"I hope not," Torre said. "I don't want guys on the mound if they give you the ball and say, thanks. It doesn't bother me a bit. He never wants to give up the ball and that's OK with me.

"Chad was a whole lot more good than anything else. His curveball was really good. He left one up to Young. He went through some innings easily."

Billingsley, who struck out seven, was generally pleased with his outing, including his ability to make quicker adjustments when his mechanics got out of whack.

But if Torre isn't completely sold that Billingsley has returned to last year's All-Star form, he's starting to feel better about a bullpen that was a bust in April.

He brought on Ronald Belisario, who loaded the bases with a four-pitch walk, but kept the damage to one run, and followed with a 1-2-3 seventh inning.

Belisario was the missing piece in April after spending most of Spring Training stuck in Venezuela with visa problems. The Dodgers weren't able to replace him and he now admits it took longer for him to be game fit than he expected. He has a 6.52 ERA after nine games. His ERA a year ago after nine games was 2.84.

"But now I feel 200 percent," he said.

Hong-Chih Kuo -- trusted again in the late innings while George Sherrill continues to search for his form -- pitched a perfect eighth with a pair of strikeouts. Jonathan Broxton was warmed up for a back-to-back save, but the Dodgers' offense changed Torre's plans with three runs in the top of the ninth and removed the save situation.

Torre shifted to Ramon Troncoso, who allowed a run before ending the game with a double-play grounder from Conor Jackson.

Meanwhile, there were offensive contributions from just about everyone. Martin scored twice. Manny Ramirez singled up the middle the third inning to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. When Ramirez was walked intentionally after Ethier's two-out double in the ninth, Loney followed with an RBI single.

Loney's homer off loser Rodrigo Lopez (1-2) in the second inning gave the Dodgers an early lead. Ethier doubled home two in the fifth inning for a 4-1 lead and now has 34 RBIs in 30 games, his average up to .393 with 10 homers.

"They keep challenging me, and rightfully so with the guy behind me [Ramirez], and everybody knows what he's done," said Ethier, who deflected a question about making a run at the hitter's Triple Crown -- average, home runs and RBIs.

"I don't even let it cross my mind," he said. "It's not a quarter into the season. There's still a lot of time to go."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.